South African President Cyril Ramaphosa/Image: The White House, Wikimedia Commons

This story originally was published by Real Clear Wire

By Toby Dershowitz and Max Friedman, RealClearInvestigations, March 18, 2024
Real Clear Wire

Shortly before South Africa accused Israel in the International Court of Justice of committing genocide in its post-Oct. 7 counteroffensive against Hamas, the South African ruling party, the African National Congress, suddenly resolved its longstanding and crippling debt issues.

The court action in December – committing tens of millions of dollars to accuse a nation thousands of miles from South Africa’s borders – appeared less an act of probity than one of cynical collaboration with one of Israel’s fiercest enemies: Iran.

Israel has forcefully denied the South African allegations, asserting that it is acting to defend itself and is “fighting Hamas, not the Palestinian population.”

Although there is no direct proof that Iran colluded with South Africa in its submission to the international court, it would not be a surprise if they did. Pretoria and Tehran have been diplomatically and financially close since long before fighters from Hamas, one of Iran’s terrorist proxies, invaded southern Israel last Oct. 7 in a rampage of rape and killing, leaving an estimated 1,200 people dead and taking hundreds of others hostage. More than 130 remain in captivity in Gaza, including Americans.

Since 2015, South Africa and Hamas have signed two memorandums of understanding to cooperate in pressuring Israel diplomatically and economically.

And South Africa’s president, Cyril Ramaphosa, appears to have a sordid pecuniary interest in Iran stretching back further – at least two decades, when the company he was leading was implicated in an alleged bribery and influence-peddling scheme between Iran and his telecommunications giant.

The South Africa-Iran relationship fits a larger pattern in which the nation famed for Nelson Mandela’s championing of human rights has become an ally of some of the most oppressive regimes in the world. In the years since Mandela’s death in 2013, South Africa has increasingly refrained from holding accountable pariah regimes and groups – including Russia, Syria, Sudan and Hamas – and has been flagged for systemic illicit financial practices. In February 2023, for example, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), the global anti-money laundering watchdog that sets international standards aimed at preventing such activities, placed the country on its “grey list,” which signals to the financial community that the country is a haven for money laundering and terrorist financing.

Paul Hoffman, head of Accountability Now, a South Africa-based human rights watchdog, wondered in a recent interview whether the country’s submissions to the court against Israel represent “a principled stand by a government that truly takes its human rights obligations seriously and seeks to enforce anti-genocide laws, or whether it is a ploy on the part of those who would see Israel destroyed and Hamas and indeed its sponsors, like Iran, prevailing.”

South Africa’s ties to Iran and Hamas will be thrown into sharp relief in the coming days when South Africa’s foreign minister, Naledi Pandor, is scheduled to be in Washington, D.C.

Before October 7, Tehran sought to derail the peace agreements known as the Abraham Accords and other efforts to stabilize relations between Arab states and Israel.  A network of organizations and front companies, “using accounts housed in major local South African banks: Standard Bank, Nedbank, and Absa,” have reportedly facilitated contributions to Hamas through Al-Quds, an organization sanctioned by the U.S., according to the Jerusalem Post.

A chronology of diplomatic activity illustrates how the two nations appear to have worked hand-in-glove since Oct. 7:

Oct. 17: Ten days after Hamas’ massacre, Foreign Minister Pandor spoke by telephone with Hamas’ political bureau chief, Ismail Haniyeh. Pandor denied it was a solidarity call, calling it merely an expression of support for Palestinians.

Oct. 22: Five days later, Pandor traveled to Tehran to meet with President Ebrahim Raisi and Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian. During Pandor’s visit, Iran’s foreign minister may have telegraphed what would be coming when he said at a joint press conference: “The world is witnessing the genocide committed by the Israeli apartheid regime against the oppressed and resisting people of Gaza. [Pandor and I] discussed the ongoing war crimes of the [Israeli] regime. We are thankful for the strong positions of the people and government of South Africa in their support of Palestine and the fight against [Israel’s] apartheid. Tehran and Pretoria have joint positions and views on international matters.”

Nov. 13: Pandor flew to Qatar and met with Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al-Thani in preparation for President Ramaphosa’s visit the following day to the wealthy emirate. It was Ramaphosa’s first visit as South Africa’s President to Qatar, a major financier of Hamas, where several of its leaders reside.

Nov. 14: Pandor published an opinion piece in an Iran-backed news outlet, calling for the arrest of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and only briefly referring to Hamas taking of hostages.

Dec. 5: The ANC in Pretoria welcomed a three-member Hamas delegation, including Khaled Qaddoumi, Hamas’s representative to Iran, and Bassem Naim, a member of Hamas’s political bureau in Gaza.

Suspicions that South Africa was reaping financial rewards for its support of Hamas and its Iranian benefactor surfaced on Dec. 29, when it filed its case with the ICJ. The move raised eyebrows because South Africa, whose government is essentially broke, was spending millions in preliminary application fees to the court and preparation and argument costs of $10.5 million for an eventual trial expected to cost taxpayers about $80 million, sources told the authors.

Under Ramaphosa, South Africa has the highest unemployment rate and the third highest crime ratein the world. Fitch assigns a BB- (junk) rating to South Africa. It cites, among other factors, weak GDP growth outlook; large, persistent fiscal deficits; rising government debt; and a widening current-account deficit.

The Ramaphosa-led ANC reportedly had the equivalent of only $5,000 in its bank account in November 2023 and has been unable to pay its own employees for months at a time.

A Sudden Settlement

Among the ruling party’s debts are $5.3 million owed to the South African company Ezulweni Investments for ANC campaign banners, not paid since the May 2019 elections. Trucks about to seize assets were recently spotted outside the ANC’s offices, ready to load up the party’s computers, desks and other property with the goal of being sold by public auction to recoup the money owed.

One week before launching its ICJ case, however, the ANC announced on Dec. 22 the sudden settlement of the multi-million-dollar debt with Ezulweni Investments.

Accountability Now’s Hoffman observed in a widely quoted interview with the country’s BizNews: “If you look at the interaction between Iran and South Africa since the Hamas attack on Israel, we have had a lot of interaction, not only with Iran but also with the Hamas leadership, which actually visited Pretoria. The Minister of International Relations visited Iran and out of that has come the application that has been made in the ICJ by South Africa.”

The ANC would not discuss the agreement publicly. Soon after, the ANC’s treasurer-general, Gwen Ramokgopa, announced that its finances were stabilized following the settlement with Ezulweni. According to South Africa’s Daily Maverick, Pandor denied that Hamas funded the case but said she “had not checked with the ANC on whether Iran was providing it with finance.” Others denied the sudden cash injection came from foreign sources.

A South African opposition political party, ActionSA, has initiated legal proceedings to obtain the debt agreement between the ANC and Ezulweni, arguing that “the likelihood of any debt settlement being lawful under these circumstances are almost impossible.”

If Iran defrayed the costs of South Africa’s ICJ genocide case against Israel, Pretoria may have new problems. Pretoria has a list of deficiencies it needs to address before the FATF removes it from the grey list. If there are revelations of additional illicit activities in connection with its filing of the ICJ case, this could further complicate its efforts. It also wouldn’t be the first time the Islamic Republic may have been involved in questionable financial matters with Ramaphosa.

Twenty years ago, the telecommunications company he headed, MTN, secured a lucrative contract to provide the first private GSM mobile phone service license in Iran. In 2013, a competing company that believed it had legitimately secured the contract, Turkcell, filed suit seeking $4.2 billion in damages from MTN, alleging impropriety surrounding the Iranian government’s decision.

Ramaphosa’s ‘Project Snooker’

Salacious details of how MTN allegedly used bribes and front companies to snatch the contract were revealed in Turkcell’s lawsuit, identifying Ramaphosa’s alleged direct role. The scheme was dubbed “Project Snooker.”

The suit alleged that MTN had committed to help Iran procure military equipment that it was prevented from buying due to international sanctions, as well as facilitating installation of eavesdropping technologies on MTN devices were the contract to be awarded, so that Iran could surveil its people.

The suit, which remains before the courts, also included bribery allegations, some of which have been found to be true. MTN has since admitted that under Ramaphosa’s leadership, MTN Irancell paid an Iranian official through a front company $400,000 to politically undermine Turkcell’s position, while another official was allegedly paid $200,000 to “help MTN deliver pro-Iran votes from South Africa at the International Atomic Energy Agency.”

South Africa’s relationship with Iran has become closer since Ramaphosa was elected the country’s president in 2018.

In August 2023, for example, Iran asked South Africa to help pave the way for its membership in BRICS (originally Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) – a group of emerging economies largely in competition with the United States. Within days, Iran was invited to become a member.

It was at the BRICS meeting in Johannesburg that South Africa and Iran inked a deal under which Tehran would develop and equip five oil refineries for Pretoria.

South Africa’s domestic woes have weakened prospects for the ANC to win the next election on May 29. According to a 2023 Ipsos poll, 83% of South Africans said the country was on the wrong track. Nearly a third of the country is unemployed. Ramaphosa’s approval rating was at an all-time low of 40%, and the ANC was expected to fall below 50% of the vote for the first time in a national election.

A recent analysis by Transparency International says corruption in South Africa has become “entrenched” and “involves many people with political power.”

Although post-apartheid South Africa is still associated with Nelson Mandela’s unflinching courage and commitment to human rights, it has protected from accountability or in some cases embraced a string of leaders accused of genocide since his death in 2013, making its case against Israel suspect:

Sudan: In June 2015, South Africa welcomed Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir to Johannesburg despite his indictment by the International Criminal Court for genocide in a campaign of mass killing, rape, and pillage against civilians in Darfur. South Africa refused to execute the ICC’s arrest warrant for the Sudanese leader.

Syria: South Africa in 2020 declined to support a U.N. General Assembly resolution condemning the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad regime’s human rights abuses, including the “deliberate targeting of civilians, starvation of civilians as a method of warfare, and the use of chemical weapons, including sarin and chlorine gas, and sulfur mustard.” In 2021, South Africa voted against the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapon’s decision to hold Assad accountable for his use of chemical weapons against his own population.

Russia: Ramaphosa said South Africa would withdraw from the ICC after the court, in March 2023, charged Russian president Vladimir Putin with war crimes and issued a warrant for his arrest. Ramaphosa’s statement had to be walked backbecause it was contrary to the ANC’s position.

Hamas: Hamas’ intent to commit genocide against Israel and Jews is clear from its 1988 charter, which openly calls for the murder of Jews and annihilation of the State of Israel, and its deliberate attacks on Israeli civilians since the 1990s. Yet the ANC signed the two memorandums of understanding with Hamas, in 2015 and 2018.

As Ramaphosa’s ANC faced the prospect of electoral defeat, critics of South Africa’s foreign policy suggest the revved-up anti-Israel actions were aimed at boosting its sagging stature on the international stage and distracting its population from domestic economic woes. The Pandor visit may be aimed at seeking to shore up support from Washington. The foreign minister may face challenges because Washington formally designates Hamas as a terrorist entity and Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism – and has called the ICJ case “baseless.”

Toby Dershowitz is Managing Director at FDD Action, a non-partisan 501(c)(4) organization established to advocate for effective policies to promote U.S. national security and defend free nations. Max Friedman is a research intern there. Follow Dershowitz on Twitter/X @tobydersh

This article was originally published by RealClearInvestigations and made available via RealClearWire.

The post Friends in Low Places? Behind South Africa’s New Genocide Case Against Israel appeared first on The Gateway Pundit.

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